Lott vows to prevent government shutdown over spending bills
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In anticipation of Congress' return from summer recess, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, has written to all Senate Republicans warning that the Clinton administration is laying the groundwork for a government shutdown this fall and vowing not to let that happen.
"As we finalize the remaining spending bills, it is increasingly apparent that President Clinton and Vice President Gore are engineering a 'train wreck' to affect the political environment," wrote Lott.
In what he called a "crass political calculation," Lott accused Clinton of "abdication of presidential leadership" by refusing to meet with Senate appropriations chairmen in order to iron out their differences.
"When they say they're going to veto spending bills and don't tell us how to work out a compromise fairly, well what does that mean? They're playing chicken with the budget process," said Lott spokesman John Czwartacki.
Congress returns September 5 with four weeks to pass all 13 spending bills in advance of the end of the fiscal year.
Republicans have been sensitive to the annual talk of a "train wreck" in the budget process since voters blamed the GOP at the polls after the 1995 government shutdown.
Since then, when Congress and the president were unable to reach a compromise before the end of the fiscal year, they have passed continuing resolutions to keep the government running.
"Speaker Hastert and I will continue working to finalize spending bills while continuing to seek constructive involvement by the Clinton/Gore Administration. But let me make this clear, Congress will not bring about a government shutdown, and there is no reason for there to be a government shutdown, unless Bill Clinton has handed over the reins of the White House to his party's campaign apparatus," wrote Lott, "We will soon know if that is the case."
In addition to what he called "repeated attempts" by appropriations subcommittee chairmen to reach out to the administration being ignored, Lott took issue with a letter seeking common ground from Hastert "rejected in a harshly dismissive and bitterly partisan manner by White House Chief of Staff John Podesta."
Lott balked at the fact that although Clinton says he supports marriage penalty and estate tax cuts, he is planning to veto the bills passed by Congress.
The administration and most congressional Democrats say they want to see those bills passed, but in a more modest, targeted manner.
The majority leader told his colleagues that in addition to finishing the spending bills, the Senate's priorities will be the bill extending permanent normalized trade relations (PNTR) to China, votes to override the president's expected vetos of the marriage penalty and estate tax cut bills, and a final vote to expand Individual Retirement Accounts.
The White House called Lott's "train wreck" charge "ridiculous."
"We put out a budget in February that lays out where we stand," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Jake Siewert. "It's hard to blame us for the fact that they are well behind on their work."
"If they want to know what the president thinks, they can open up the budget and find the right page," he added.